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How Thyroid Disease Affects Diabetes

By

Sandra Gordon

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Thyroid function examination

If you have diabetes, you may have increased risk of developing a thyroid disorder, a condition in which your body produces too little or too much thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones affect every function in your body, including the rate you burn calories, your breathing, your heart and nervous system, your body temperature, and your weight. It’s estimated that 10 to 24% of people with diabetes also have thyroid disease.

Diabetes and thyroid disorders are closely related. They both affect your endocrine system, which produces and releases hormones into your bloodstream so your body can function properly. Find out more about how the two diseases influence each other and your health.

It's important to be able to communicate with your doctor if you have diabetes.

Diabetes and Graves’ Disease

People with Graves’ disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism, have a greater chance of developing type 1 diabetes than the general population. With this autoimmune disorder, your immune system causes your thyroid, a two-inch-long butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck, to make more thyroid hormones than your body needs. If it’s left untreated, Graves’ disease can:

  • Cause heart problems. If you have diabetes, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. In itself, untreated Graves’ disease can cause rapid heartbeat. Together, the two may further increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Make your blood sugar harder to control. It can also increase the amount of insulin you need and make your cells resistant to insulin.

  • Weaken your bones. Graves’ disease can lead to bone-weakening osteoporosis. Diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy, which can lead to the loss of sensation in the feet and increase your risk of falling. People with hyperthyroidism and diabetes may be more likely to break a bone if they fall.

Diabetes and Hashimoto’s Disease

If you have type 1 diabetes, you’re also at increased risk for Hashimoto’s disease. With this thyroid disorder, your immune system makes antibodies that damage your thyroid. This causes your thyroid to make less thyroid hormones than your body needs, also known as hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s disease is the most common form of hypothyroidism, which causes every function in your body to slow down including brain function, your heart rate, and the rate your body burns calories. If left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can increase your cholesterol. Diabetes can do the same. If you have both conditions, you may be at even higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Pregnant women with undiagnosed hypothyroidism are also at an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy).

Know the Signs

All told, thyroid disease that’s not treated can make your diabetes worse and increase your risk for complications. But managing one condition can help control the other.

If you have diabetes, know the signs of thyroid disease and tell your doctor if you experience them. They include:

  • A pale, puffy face

  • A slow or rapid heartbeat

  • Constipation or frequent bowel movements or diarrhea

  • Dry, thinning hair;

  • Feeling cold

  • Feelings of depression

  • Heavy periods

  • Muscle pain or weakness

  • Neck swelling

  • Nervousness

  • Problems getting pregnant

  • Shaky hands

  • Tiredness

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Weight gain or loss

Ask your doctor to be screened regularly for thyroid disease, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Key Takeaways

  • 10 to 24% of people with diabetes also have thyroid disease, in which your body produces too little or too much thyroid hormones.

  • Thyroid disease that’s not treated can make your diabetes worse and increase your risk for complications.

  • Graves’ disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism, can cause heart problems, make blood sugar harder to control, and weaken your bones.

  • Hashimoto’s disease, the most common form of hypothyroidism, can increase your cholesterol. Diabetes can do the same, so you may be at even higher risk for heart disease and stroke. 

  • If you have diabetes, know the signs of thyroid disease and tell your doctor if you experience them. Also, ask your doctor to be screened regularly for thyroid disease.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 24, 2017

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

Fall and Balance Outcomes After an Intervention to Promote Leg Strength, Balance, and Walking in People with Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: “Feet First” Randomized Controlled Trial. R Kruse, J LeMaster, et al. Physical Therapy. Nov 2010;90(11).
Prevalence of thyroid dysfunction in patients with diabetes mellitus. C Palma, M Pavesi et al. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome. 2013; 5: 58. Accessed February 11, 2015.
The Relationship between Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Related Thyroid Disorders. C Wang. Journal of Diabetes Research, Vol 2013, Article ID 390534. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Thyroid Disorders and Diabetes Mellitus. M Hage, M Zantout et al. Journal of Thyroid Research, Vol 2011, Article ID 439463. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Graves’ Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/graves/
Hypothyroidism. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/hypothyroidism/index.asp
Cardiovascular Disease & Diabetes. American Heart Association. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Diabetes/WhyDiabetesMatters/Cardiovascular-Disease-Diabetes...
Graves’ Disease. The Endocrine Society. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.hormone.org/~/media/Hormone/Files/Questions%20and%20Answers/Thyroid/FS_TD_Graves_Disease_...
Thyroid Disease and Pregnancy. American Thyroid Association. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/ct-for-patients/vol-6-issue-2/vol-6-issue-2-p-3-4...
Hashimoto’s disease fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/hashimoto-disease.html
Graves’ Disease fact sheet. Womenshealth.gov. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet-graves-diseases.html

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